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The surprising reason women might develop asthma as adults

Do you find yourself coughing like crazy after you try a new perfume? Are you wheezing during workouts? Feeling short of breath when you walk the dog?

You may be shocked to find out you have adult-onset asthma, a condition in which the airways become inflamed and swollen and produce extra mucous, which can lead to breathing problems.

“The majority of asthma cases are diagnosed in childhood, about 75 percent,” says Dr. Kanao Otsu, an allergist and immunologist and an assistant professor at National Jewish Health. “Early onset asthma begins before the age of 7, but asthma can happen at any age.”

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, you may have been able to avoid a trigger for your asthma throughout your life, but then when you finally get exposed, say to the chemicals in that new perfume, your symptoms suddenly appear. Or perhaps you get a simple viral infection. After most of your symptoms clear up, your cough sticks around. That infection may have triggered your asthma.

Adult-onset asthma symptoms

— Dry cough, especially at night.

— Tightness or pressure in the chest.

— Wheezing — a whistling sound — when exhaling.

— Shortness of breath after exercise or physical exertion.

— Difficulty breathing.

— Colds that go to the chest or linger for 10 days or more.

What causes adult-onset asthma?

Smoking does not cause adult-onset asthma, but if you smoke or if you are exposed to secondhand smoke, it may provoke asthma symptoms.

Another time in your life that you may find yourself dealing with adult-onset asthma: at perimenopause.

“We think this is because there is a link involving the hormonal changes women go through at that time in their lives,” Otsu says.

Being significantly overweight can put pressure on your body as well, resulting in adult-onset asthma.

“We find, too, that a condition such as obesity can be present in many new diagnoses of adult-onset asthma, especially if you don’t smoke, and can cause your symptoms to worsen,” Otsu adds.

If you have symptoms

So, what should you do if you’re suddenly dealing with asthma symptoms for the first time in your life? First, see your primary care physician to rule out any other lung problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or other health issues.

“It’s so important if you have symptoms that you may have had your whole life, but never got checked out, that you do go to the doctor to see if you have asthma,” Otsu says. “You might have adult-onset asthma. But it might also be that you’ve always had asthma, and you simply didn’t know you had it.

“There are very effective treatments that can help relieve your symptoms, controller medications such as inhaled corticosteroids. Go to an allergist or pulmonologist for testing.”

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